Virginia had a problem. Workers were asked to treat Covid-19 patients but the they were not covered by workers’ compensation insurance due to Virginia’s strict proof requirements for occupational diseases. Fortunately, the general assembly has acted to correct this problem. The assembly passed a new law that provides coverage for health care workers and first responders who acquire Covid-19. The law provides a presumption that the disease was contracted through work. As a result, the health care workers and the first responders can now obtain coverage through their employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. The caveat is the disease must have been diagnosed between March 2020 and December 31, 2021.
Under the ordinary occupational disease claim in Virginia, the diagnosed employee must not only prove by clear and convincing medical evidence the problem was acquired at work but the employee must be able to show the problem did not occur outside the work place. As a result of these strict proof requirements, it is very difficult to obtain coverage for this type of problem especially when the public at large is exposed to the virus.
This law is a praiseworthy attempt to ensure that the employees who are putting their lives on the line for the rest of us have medical and wage loss coverage. Under Virginia Workers’ Compensation law, the diagnosed worker can have 100% of their medical bills covered potentially for the rest of their lives. Also, if the disease causes disability, then the insurance will provide wage loss coverage up to two-thirds of the employee’s salary for a maximum time of 500 weeks. This law should not only provide coverage for doctors, nurses, and policemen but also nurse’s aides, orderlies, deputy sheriffs and others who have to put their lives on the front lines so we can all be safe.
One of the most severely affected areas in Virginia have been nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities. Often it is the certified nursing assistants, nurse’s aides, and orderlies who are making low wages who suffer the brunt of the pandemic.
I would hope if the pandemic does not resolve by December 31, 2021 then the law will be extended. Because the law provides for a presumption, the insurance company would have to prove the employee contracted the virus other than on the job. It is hoped that those people who are first to respond to this crisis will not have the coverage they deserve.